Wednesday, 27 October 2021

Top of the world walk

Today we went on a trip to the highest points on Madeira.

The bus stopped a few times on the way to pick up other walkers and in our group we ended up with three English speakers, three German and four French. Our guide was fluent in all three, plus obviously Portuguese, and he randomly swapped between languages all day telling us loads of interesting facts. 

In contrast to our outing last week, we arrived at the starting point, called Pico do Arieiro in bright sunshine.

It was really cold though and very windy, but we were well wrapped up although gloves would have been very handy. We set off amid fantastic mountain views with the clouds sometimes rolling in, and then clearing within seconds.

Within a few minutes we were walking along a narrow track with massive drops on either side, but with a wire handrail to make it feel a bit safer.

That pretty well sums up the whole day, as we went up and down steep paths, amazing views everywhere unless a cloud came down, and listing to the background chat from our guide in varying languages.

After a while came the addition of tunnels to our journey, one of which had lots of puddles that we couldn't see until it was too late, so wet feet all around. 

However, one of the most beautiful sections was also very sad. Our guide told us that about 20 years ago there was a huge fire and a lot of the ancient forest was burnt. It is slowly growing back although it will take many more years, but it is now an incredible sight to see.

We then reached the highest point on the island, Pico Ruivo, but the clouds beat us to it and there was nothing to see, apart from lots of other people who couldn't see anything either. 

From the it was a 45 minute walk to where our bus was waiting to whisk us back to our hotel. 

Monday, 25 October 2021

Monte Palace Gardens

 Imagine a garden that it is so perfect that it couldn't possibly be real.

Well it does exist and is called the Monte Palace Gardens. 

It is high up on the hillside above Funchal, and we visited today. Most people get to it very easily and efficiently on the cable car. Obviously we aren't most people so we caught a bus from the outside of our hotel. It gradually wound its way upwards, sometimes heading west, sometimes east, sometimes up and sometimes down, but eventually it did drop us in Monte.

We then took a while to actually find the garden entrance, and passed by the tourists taking the sledge ride back down the hill.

As soon as we entered the gates, we were straight into another world. The gardens run down the very steeply sloping site and according to the guidebook, they have an abundant collection of exotic plants from all over the world. 

The owners through the years have also been avid collectors of sculptures, tiles, pagodas, Buddhas, stone seats, lanterns and much more, and they are scattered liberally throughout the gardens. 

They have beautiful Japanese and Chinese inspired gardens which are choc a bloc with lovely things. 

Then there are the water gardens, with tiny levadas running through and down green walls covered in ferns.

A wonderful place that I can't wait to return to. 

Sunday, 24 October 2021

The Nun's Valley

 Another day, another bus trip. This time we were heading for the Nun's Valley, but we stopped off at a lovely viewpoint on the way.

We had almost half an hour here, which was a bit more than needed, and this was because we had a good bus. For once everyone was early for their hotel pick ups, so we were already well on our way before 9.30am. 

The next destination was another viewpoint at the end of a narrow road with long drops to the valley floor. It was 1,094 metres above sea level, and much colder up there.

We had a great view of all of the mountains surrounding the valley, and across the mountain was the remains of the old road to the village.

Not only did it look terrifying, but sections have fallen away and huge rocks are strewn across the remaining bits. 

So now we get to the background information - in the olden days pirates used to attack the island and the islanders had a system of flares to alert the people. 

The nuns lived in a convent in Funchal and they would gather up the valuables from the church and then walk up a stream into the valley. The stream wound through the mountains and was hidden from the sea, so the pirates did not realise it was there. 

They then climbed up on to a high ledge and hid until the pirates left. That place is called Curral das Freiras and is a thriving village. The way to reach it now is either to walk up as the nuns did, or take the easy way and drive through the modern tunnel.

This is the view down from the village and the road continues down the valley, but eventually reaches a dead end and everyone has to drive back up to Curral das Freiras and through the tunnel. 

Today is Sunday and the church is in the middle of the village. While we were there the bells rang out for the start of the service, and then it was broadcast from loudspeakers on the top of the spire.

It was very nice and peaceful to sit and listen to the hymns and to imagine the nuns gathering in this place and singing many years ago.

Friday, 22 October 2021

North Eastern bus trip

A normal start to the bus trip this morning. We went up some very steep and winding streets and arrived at a lovely viewpoint for a sophisticated coffee stop.

We got back on the bus and carried on upwards, and into the clouds that often hide the top of the mountains. The plan was to drive through the clouds and then above them to see the summit.

Unfortunately, nature had a different plan for us today and the clouds not only didn't disappear, but they started raining rather heavily on us. We couldn't see more than a few metres ahead and it was also very cold and windy by then.

We made a quick exit down the road to the next stop of Ribiero Frio, which means cold river.

We stopped at the trout farm for a look around and were then supposed to do a 45 minute levada walk, but the rain was so heavy that instead the bus took us straight to the next destination.

Santana has at least ten original Madeiran houses, and they are unbelievably cute.

For about twenty minutes all went well, we looked around the village and in the little houses, and were just thinking of finding a restaurant for lunch when the rain poured down again. After sheltering for a while, we then made it to a lovely restaurant and eaked our lunch out until it was time for the bus to leave.

Next stop was a good one, although I can't remember where it was. A great little walk around a promenade, although the views looked more like Scotland than Madeira today. 

It also had a rum factory with a tasting session that is always welcome. Final stop was a place called Machico, and our guide highly recommended the ice cream kiosk next to the bus stop. 

I look a little sad and puzzled in the last picture with my ice cream, and that is because it was a weird tasting cornet that I will not be choosing again! 

Lazy day today

We spent the morning around the swimming pool and then went for coffee and shared a massive tasty piece of coconut sponge cake. After a very quick discussion we got another and ate that too.

When I went up to the counter to pay it cost 4 euros 60. I insisted that it must be more because I had ordered a second cake, but the waitress held firm. We are not expensive here, she said and then showed me the back of the shop where they made all of the bread and cakes themselves.

I think that this is now my favourite place in the whole world.

In the afternoon we walked along the sea front at Funchal to the very end to see the old Fort.

It was built to defend the island from pirate attacks which happened quite regularly in the olden days.

It looks very run down now, so no attacks for a long time and all was peaceful around it with a guy was painting the view.

As you can see, the sun was going down so we went to the old town behind the old Fort for a cocktail.

I will have to stop getting surprised at the prices here soon, because the cocktails were cheap and the lovely meal that we had later even more so.

The moral of this slightly boring blog is 'visit Madeira'. 

Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Not whale watching

This morning we went to the market to see the espada fish that we ate the other day.

Pretty unappetising, but actually very tasty.

We then had to dash over to the harbour for our midday whale and dolphin watching appointment. It was scheduled for three whole hours, but unfortunately no one had checked the whale's diaries. They met up with the 9am catamaran, but obviously had more important things to do, so didn't turn up for us to see them.

The tour guide stood on the roof of the catamaran and insists that she saw their splashes in the distance, but we tried to follow them and the sea got too rough.

Fortunately no one fell in, and I was okay for the first couple of hours, but then started getting queasy. By then the captain had given up and had driven near to the shore so that his passengers could go for a swim. I had totally planned to do this until I had a paddle yesterday and found out the sea temperature, so in the end we watched the other intrepid swimmers.

Three pm arrived and I was extremely glad to be back on land, and had a little afternoon lie down to recover. 

Sticking with the nautical theme we went out for dinner at a hotel with a restaurant, and the building was shaped like an ocean liner. 

Our table was right next to what looked like a ventilation funnel and I asked if it blew out smoke, but the waiter said that it was actually a decoration. We didn't go inside, but the bar looked just like the captain's bridge with a big steering wheel.

What a lovely meal that came to 30 euros including tip. There was a glass of madeira to start, then a whole fresh avocado and salad starter, beef skewers and round madeiran bread with a glass of wine for the main course, fruit salad and coffee, then a banana liqueur with the bill. Will definitely go back.